The crafting of Rhode Island’s first State Plan on Caregiving

Published on February 28, 2022 in Rhode Island News Today

Rhode Island has the distinction of having one of the highest percentages of adults aged 85 and over in the country. In 2017, out of a population of 1,060,00 there are more than 136,000 caregivers providing 114 million hours of care, says AARP Rhode Island.  More Rhode Islanders will be thrust into caregiving roles in the coming years.

In response to the continued aging of Rhode Island’s population, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) and Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island officially released Rhode Island’s first State Plan on Caregiving.  The state’s new Plan for Caregivers serves as the framework for the crafting and implementation of new policies, as well as the expansion of various existing programs and partnerships to assist caregivers. The Plan serves to strengthen and advance the shared mission of OHA and the Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island at the United Way (FCARI)  to promote choice, independence, empowerment, and the overall well-being of older adults, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers.  FCARI is supported with funds from OHA.

As an advocate for caregivers throughout the state, The FCARI serves as the administrator of the 29-page Plan which extends through Sept. 2023. 

A Call for Supporting Rhode Island’s Caregivers

“The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated many of the challenges faced by our older adults and their caregivers, particularly social isolation,” said Interim Director Michelle Szylin announcing the release of this report on Sept 24, 2021. “Caregivers have a tough job and often receive little support. Through the development of this State Plan, we’re showing our commitment to strengthening resources available for our caregivers and better supporting the important work they do across our state,” she says.

Adds Maryam Attarpour, Program Manager, Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island at the UWRI, “Caregiving has been and will always be a major part of the fabric of our society.” Attarpour says that the new State plan puts the needs of family caregivers first. “Our goal is to create a state that is equitable, inclusive, and supportive of our family caregivers, and the loved-ones they care for,” she says.

According to the statement, the State Plan on Caregiving also builds on the state’s existing efforts to meet the needs of Rhode Island caregivers of any age.  It provides an overview of the existing support network available for family caregivers to access as well as addresses the work that remains to ensure equitable access to resources and advocacy. 

One of the key areas of support that the plan focuses on is developing a comprehensive, robust website and social media presence for FCARI that will serve as a hub of information for resources and information for caregivers. It will also ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion for Rhode Island Caregivers and those for whom they care, too.

The State Plan will also ensure that the caregivers of Rhode Island seeking long term services and supports are identified and provided with information assistance and advance  opportunities for digital access (iPads, notebooks, computers and phones) to better serve and support Rhode Island Caregivers.

Over the years, the Rhode Island General Assembly has worked closely with aging advocates to enhance supports and resources for the state’s caregivers.  The State Plan calls on lawmakers to review existing laws to determine if they need to be refined or better funded.  It also suggests that legislation that has been submitted and not passed as well as laws and policies from other states be reviewed for “relevancy for supporting Rhode Island family caregivers.

Putting a Face on Family Caregivers

On Feb. 15th, Maureen Maigret, Chair of the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee, told members of the Rhode Island House Oversight Subcommittee on Aging & Senior Services, the importance of hammering out sound policy to support the state’s growing number of caregivers.

Maigret painted a picture of the typical care recipient, citing the 2020 Report, Caregiving in the U.S., to the attending House lawmakers. “Eighty nine percent of the care recipients are a relative, with 50% being either a parent or parent-in-law, spouse/partner (12%), grandparent/grandparent-in-law (8%), sibling/sibling-in-law (7%), adult child (6%) or nonrelative (10%), she said, noting that the average care recipient’s age is 68.9.

While 61% of the caregivers are women, 39% are men, adds Maigret, noting that 61% are white, 14% African American and 17% Hispanic.  The age of most caregivers falls between ages 60-65, says Maigret, noting that younger adults also find themselves having to provide caregiving chores.  Twenty-four percent of persons ages 18-34 and 23% of person’s ages 35-49.

It’s not easy to be a caregiver, says Maigret. She warned that caregivers should be considered “the hidden patient” because they are at risk for becoming depressed, extremely fatigued, stressed, feeling overwhelmed, being socially isolated, losing income and having physical health problems.

Maigret’s presentation was followed by a panel led by Acting OHA Director, Michelle Szylin, and her staff who provided information on programs OHA offers to assist caregivers including subsidized respite, home care and adult day services and special pilots to support those caring persons with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Although our legislature and Governor have been supportive of funding programs to support caregivers, the growth of our older population means more persons will need to become caregivers,” said Maigret. “We need better state programs and services to provide physical, emotional and financial support, and enhanced access to information about available resources,” she said.

Maigret adds: “There is also an urgent need to address the direct care worker crisis by providing the workers with fair and competitive wages.  Many caregivers need to supplement the services they provide with paid caregivers if they are in the workforce, or need to take care of other family needs. Yet due to the low wages paid for personal care workers, it is not always possible to find such help.”

For a copy of the State Plan on Caregiving go to https://fcari.org/state-plan-on-caregiving/